Have you ever looked at a finished piece of writing and wondered how someone could ever write something that amazing? Have you ever looked at one of your own first drafts and wondered how it could ever be something worth reading? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then this is the blog post for you.
The truth is that people rarely write something worth reading on the first draft; it takes many revisions. Each previous draft gets hidden behind the shiny final copy, but not this time! Below you will find two copies of my blog post for the week, my “one” and my “done”.
Sometimes life can be messy. School is hard and work takes up lots of time and then there’s extracurriculars on top of that. Plus you want to hang out with friends so it can be tricky to balance everything and make sure things get done on time. With so many distractions everywhere it’s remarkable we get anything done at all. It’s overwhelming to look at your syllabus at the beginning of the term and see all the things you have to do before exams and then start all over again. Now it’s March and we’ve made it this far already but the final papers time is here and the stress continues. Midterms are over but that doesn’t mean the work is. March is here and so march on we must.
It can be intimidating to sit down at your laptop with a blank document in front of you with the knowledge that within the next week you will have to churn out a ten page paper on the major concepts in your course and how they all tie together but don’t worry. You can do it. All you have to do is start writing down your ideas. What is the assignment about? What do you want your topic to be? How are you going to explain and/or defend that point of view? Even if you have no idea what your end product is going to look like, just start writing what you have now in terms of ideas. If it makes you feel any better, this is what I’m doing for this blog post. I’m currently at 250 words and I have no idea what I’m talking about. So just start writing. Nobody is going to see your first draft except if you’re doing what I’m doing in which case the whole point is for you to see how my first draft is a mess and my final draft is (hopefully) a massive improvement from there.
Writing is a process, a journey from point A to point B/Q/wherever you end up. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going when you start the car but you’ll figure it out once you’ve been on the road for long enough. Maybe you’ll be typing up a storm and then hit a huge roadblock with a detour twice as long as your intended route. That’s okay. Just keep going and go with the flow. You’ll figure out your destination eventually. If you’re lucky, you might figure it out sooner than me (418 words and counting and I am still lost). Just follow the winding road of your own thoughts. You never know where you’ll end up. And if the road turns out bumpy and rough, it’s only a first draft and that can be fixed with edits and excavators to move things around.
So have I figured out what I’m saying? Maybe. I think what I’m trying to say is that writing is a big long process that can sometimes be long and messy and you don’t always know where you’re going. Sometimes you take detours or hit a roadblock or get completely lost. Sometimes you’re writing with no aim in the world or you’re trying to find your aim while you write (exhibit A). No matter how your writing turns out after the first draft, you always have the ability to edit as much as you want and turn that bumpy road into something smooth. You don’t even need a hard hat. So buckle your seatbelts folks because you are in for a ride of a lifetime. It’s term paper season and hopefully this post will have helped you see that writing a first draft isn’t actually scary. It’s just the first step in a journey. There. 625 words and I think I’ve figured out what I’m talking about just in time for me to finish my draft. Nice.
It’s March. Midterms are mostly over, but exams and final paper due dates are approaching. The stress is enough to make anyone cry. March is here, so march on we must. Fasten your seatbelts, because term paper season can be a wild ride.
Sitting down at your laptop with a blank document in front of you can be intimidating. The thought of writing anything less than brilliant feels almost preposterous, or at very least a waste of time. When faced with a ten page paper on major course
In her book, Bird by Bird, author
Anne Lamott talks about the writing process. She has one chapter dedicated solely to terrible first drafts and how important it is to let your writing run free and wild before you try and clean it up. All you have to do is start writing down your ideas one by one. Lamott gives the example of her younger brother trying to start a research paper on birds, but feeling entirely overwhelmed by the task. Her father’s advice? Take it one bird at a time.
Image source: Amazon.ca
Don’t worry about the big picture; just pick a starting place and go from there. Write about the purpose of the assignment. Write about your thoughts on the prompt. If you are lucky enough to have a topic chosen already, then pick a place to start within that topic and get going! This blog will still be here when you’re done. If you’re really stuck, write about how you’re having trouble coming up with ideas. Even if you have no clue what your end product is going to look like, just start writing about what’s in your brain right now. If it makes you feel any better, that is what I did for this blog post. Go one idea at a time. You’ll get there eventually.
If you’re still nervous, remember that your first draft is only for you. Nobody else is going to see it unless you decide to show them. You can shred it, burn it, or write over it if you’d like once you’ve got a second draft. You could also save it to compare to your final draft later, so you can see the massive improvement between one and done. Heck, that’s what I’m doing with this post!
Maybe you don’t know where you’re going when you pick up the pen, but you’ll figure it out once you’ve been writing for a while. When I was writing my first draft, it took me until my final paragraph to figure out what I was writing about. I just put my thoughts down, bird by bird, until I found something worth exploring.
Before doing this exercise, I never really thought about how vastly different first and final drafts could be. It’s easy to understand the need for changes in terms of grammar and formatting, but the difference in idea development is far more astounding. I started out thinking about driving and construction but ended up talking about birds. The basic message is the same, but the way of getting there is different. In the end, there is no secret on how to write flawless first drafts. Flawless first drafts do not exist. First drafts exist to be messy and terrible, not to be handed in after a first time through. Because first drafts will be revised, they give writers the freedom to ramble without fear of judgement.
I hope that this post has given you the encouragement you need to face the prospect of drafting that final paper, or at least given you a chance to laugh a bit at the horrific nature of my rough copy. I wish you the best of luck as you head into the final stretch of term paper terror! Remember, just take each assignment bird by bird.